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25 years after wrongful conviction, a man is free from Angola

Cedric Dent spent 25 years in Angola for a crime he didn't commit.

NEW ORLEANS — Eyewitness News met Cedric Dent the day he returned home to New Orleans after spending 25 years in prison, held behind bars at one of Americans toughest prisons.

Dent remembers the day his life changed. 

"I was a working man, I was taking care of my family all of a sudden things went wrong in my life and they took my life away from me,” Dent said. "I got locked up when I was 23 and I am 47 now, they took my good years away from me, for something I didn’t do.”

In early September 1997, it was reported two people were arguing at the old Jackson Supermarket, on Jackson Avenue. Reports say they came to the intersection of St Thomas and Josephine St and one of them was shot. 

Across town, on the other side of the Mississippi, Dent was seeing the movie Hoodlum, at the old Belle Promenade 14 cinema. 11 days after the shooting Dent was arrested and charged with murder. 

He would be sentenced to life without parole for second-degree murder.

For 25 years he maintained his innocence.

On Monday, after more than two decades, he was exonerated for a crime he didn’t commit. 

Meredith Angelson, an attorney with the Innocence Project New Orleans, said the case was built on rumors, which weren’t verified. 

“Nobody ever went to the theater to try to see if somebody to try to corroborate that, nobody tried to find a paper record of that,” Angelson said. “There were systemic failures at every stage here, the police did not do their job, they did nothing to try and corroborate this identification of one witness.”

She said the one and only witness in the case picked Dent in a lineup. But the description he gave police looked nothing like him.

“At trial, there was no other evidence, no physical evidence that tied Mr. Dent to the crime, it was really the testimony of this one witness," Angelson said. 

His mother, Earline Brooks Colbert, grieved not the loss of her son, but the loss of his freedom.

Credit: IPNO

“When I reached out and hugged my child, you can’t buy that, that was a beautiful feeling, something I will never forget,” Brooks Colbert said.

The criminal justice system failed this family not only once, but twice.

“My brother Elvis who was wrongly incarcerated for 43 years,” Brooks Colbert said.

Elvis Brooks was charged with first-degree murder and armed robbery and sentenced to life in prison in 1977. He was released three years ago. The family suffered a combined 68 years of wrongful conviction in state custody.

“Now I can see my child, I would like to say, whenever I want to, feel like it, need to, and the same with him," Brooks Colbert said.

Dent's sister, Sonya Dent is grateful to have her brother home and had her first night home with her brother planned out. “I bought a Jenga game for him tonight, I am sure he hasn’t played that. I bought Uno for old time's sake,” Dent said.

When Dent was locked up, he left behind a two-year-old daughter and a seven-month-old son. Now he has grandkids.

"Failure is not an option, I never gave up. I knew one day I was going to be released from prison," Dent said.

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